For the Season
Birdman Recording Group
an Francisco needs another whimsical, fey psych-pop band like the world needs another two weeks of the Winter Olympics. Recently, bands have forfeited the genre’s drug-forged guitar transcendence for paper-thin picking and the opportunity to sing about spiders and birds and shit. This is all well and fine, but when band after band insists on making Pigpen look like a master of deep psychedelic exploration, we’ve got a problem.
San Fran’s Gris Gris, who released their sophomore effort, For the Season, late last year, are one of the fortunate throwbacks—a psych rock band truly interested in the traditional sounds of the genre. For the Season teems with carnival organ fills, eight-legged guitar solos, and excitable cymbals. The blend of these elements—as found on tracks like the six-minute crag-rock “Year Zero”—is nothing less than a thrilling amalgamation psych-rock’s storied past and its uncertain future. At their most powerful, Gris Gris are as noisy and frightening as any of their more consciously experimental peers, the product of a still-versatile set of old parts and an aggressive, restless mindset.
Gris Gris are at their best when they ramp up the volume and crush souls, eschewing melody in favor of ghastly chants and maelstrom jams. They achieve this brilliantly with For the Season leadoff hitter “Ecks Em Eye,” which opens with a snarling saxophone riff and resplendent guitar picking. When the band chants the chorus over a minor-key guitar riff, they achieve the sort of wizardry and substance-addled murk their band name suggests. Gris Gris carry the momentum through the organ-heavy storm and stress of “Cuerpos Haran Amor Extrano,” which also contains the album’s spiniest guitar solo.
The fast start is important, because Gris Gris’s success often mimics the movement of their song tempos. Despite a beautifully plucked bridge, “Big Engine Nazi Kid Daydream” fails to live up to its gargantuan title, settling for two distinct sections of breezy acoustic guitar, the first of which is augmented by frontman Greg Ashley intoning a molasses melody. Ashley is a competent composer and vocalist—he’s been mining his skewed brand of psychedelia since he was a teenager—but he’s not consistently compelling enough to carry tracks almost solely dependent on his vox.
The difference, though, between For the Season and Gris Gris’s debut album is that the detours are less frequent and less distracting. “Medication #4,” for instance, sets with a surprisingly discordant guitar solo, and “Mademoiselle” is nearly catchy, even if its acoustic-pop daydream sounds largely out of place here. But even when the lighter moments work, everyone’s better off with the band’s experimental side, which covers everything from the kitchen-sink manipulations of “The Nonstop Tape” to the underwater hum of “Skin Mass Cat.”
This band still fights its animalistic urges a bit too often. But when they get rolling downhill, they’re an organ/guitar/chant clusterfuck of witchcraft, balled sinew, and contaminated psych-rock fervor. Gris Gris has a devil on its shoulder, and as soon as it kills the feel-goods and pretties, they’ll be sitting on something monstrous. For the Season gets them halfway there.